Friday, July 17, 2009

Bill published to transfer RegTel premium rate functions to Comreg

I've posted before (1|2) about some of the problems in regulation of premium rate services in Ireland and in particular the difficulties presented by the role of RegTel, the non-statutory industry regulatory body, due to its lack of legislative powers. (More on RegTel from Daithi | Eoin.) As noted in those posts, the Minister for Communications some time ago committed himself to introducing legislation which would transfer RegTel's functions to ComReg .

That legislation has now emerged, in the form of the Communications Regulation (Premium Rate Services) Bill 2009. According to the explanatory memorandum, the purpose of the Bill is to provide for:
• the transfer of the function of regulating premium rate services to the Commission for Communications Regulation, hereinafter called the Commission.
• the licensing of premium rate services by the Commission.
• offences, penalties and rights of appeal in relation to the regulation of premium rate services.
• the funding of expenses incurred by the Commission in exercise of its regulatory functions.
• the transfer of staff and responsibility for certain legal proceedings, respectively, from Regtel to the Commission.
• compliance by the Commission with the same obligations in relation to Ministerial directions, reporting and accountability responsibilities in respect of premium rate services as it has in respect of electronic communications and postal services.
Key elements here are the introduction of a licence to provide premium rate services and the creation of a range of criminal offences including acting without a licence and overcharging / charging for services which were not requested.

More from the Irish Times | Siliconrepublic.

(I'm a bit late blogging this story - I lost sight of this Bill in the flurry of legislative activity during the run up to the summer vacation, particularly the rushing through of the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 and the introduction of the Communications (Retention of Data) Bill 2009. More on these anon.)


  1. Having read the bill quickly, it strikes me that premium rate services are covered by the authorisation directive 2002/20/EC.

    It seems to me odd that even though the directive clearly states in it's annex the extent of conditions that can be attached to an authorisation (call it a license if you want to..) that the bill appears to reach further.

    I'm guessing as a result that I have misinterpreted the application of the directive to this set of electronic communications services and that when this legislation is notified to the commission under Article 18(2) that it won't fall for over reaching...

    Any views?

  2. Good question. While I'm open to correction, it seems to me that the short answer is that the Authorisation Directive does not apply to premium rate services (PRS) per se. Unfortunately the long answer involves a bit of a delve into the thicket of EU Telecoms law.

    The Authorisation Directive applies only to authorisations for the provision of "electronic communication networks" and "electronic communication services" (Article 1(2)). Clearly PRS operators are not operating a network - so are they providing an "electronic communication service"?

    That term is defined in Article 2(c) of 2002/21/EC as follows:

    electronic communications service’ means a service
    normally provided for remuneration which consists wholly or mainly in the conveyance of signals on electronic communications networks, including telecommunications services and transmission services in networks used for broadcasting, but excludes services providing, or exercising editorial control over, content transmitted using electronic communications networks and services; it does not include information society services, as defined in Article 1 of Directive 98/34/EC, which do not consist wholly or mainly in the conveyance of signals on electronic communications networks

    That definition focuses on the conveying of signals rather than the provision of content - and therefore doesn't appear to include PRS as such. This was, for example, the conclusion of the UK Government in considering the reform of PRS shortly after the Authorisation Directive. (See p.78 of Ofcom's report "The Regulation of Premium Rate Services" -

    You might at this stage object that p.9 of that very same report says that withholding premium rate numbers from offending PRS operators would violate the Authorisation Directive. However at this stage we make a subtle shift from regulating premium rate services (outside the scope of the Directive) to regulating premium rate numbers (within the scope of the Directive) - and the 2009 Bill does not purport to regulate the issue or withdrawal of numbers, merely the services provided using those numbers.